Do Not Underestimate Work Environment’s Impact on Change

Do Not Underestimate Work Environment’s Impact on Change
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People Change When Their Environment Changes
Researchers have known for decades that people change when their environmental circumstances change. But it may surprise you to discover how profoundly people’s environment can influence their behavior and how often simple changes can make a big difference. We’re discovering, too, more about the work environment’s impact on change.

Scientists talk about “priming” the environment. They know that, when different cues appear in our environment, we perceive things differently. Very simply, priming can change what things mean to us and how much attention we pay to them.

Examples of Different Environments Impacting Behavior
The environment you create can either encourage or discourage specific behaviors.  For example:

  • Inviting spaces with comfortable chairs encourage consumers to stay longer; cramped and uncomfortable spaces push people to move on.
  • A dingy corridor filled with extra equipment will invite staff to leave another item in the hall; a clean corridor and easily accessible storage will encourage staff to take the time to put the item away.
  • Reduced plate sizes with correspondingly less food encourage diners to reduce food waste without reducing satisfaction.
  • Piano stairs (where stairs are functioning piano keys) appearing in places like Stockholm, Milan, Melbourne, Istanbul, and Auckland encourage metro riders to take the stairs as a healthier option.

Retailers have long known how to affect consumers’ buying behavior through the right environment. In the 1970s, Philip Kotler coined the term “atmospherics” and showed how atmospherics can have a significant influence on buying behavior.

He advocated appealing to the senses. Smart retailers find background music that best fits their brand and their customers’ tastes, infuse their stores with a pleasant aroma, understand the power of color in their displays, and provide opportunities to touch and handle the merchandise. The results? Customers linger longer, are in a positive mood, and spend more.

What Priming Means to the Work Environment
The concepts of atmospherics and priming can have a significant impact in the workplace. Think about something as simple as seating and office arrangements. Small round tables encourage discussion and collaboration; standard audience-style seating encourages a focus toward the front rather than on those seated nearby; placing barriers between workstations fosters more individual effort and less reliance on what others are doing.

Priming’s Influence on Organizational Change
Priming can also affect behavior around organizational change. Consider carefully how the work environment can frame the change you seek and encourage the behaviors that support that change. Don’t underestimate the work environment’s impact on change.

For example, after decades of minimal success, one client decided they needed to truly change their culture regarding safety.  To help support the change, they ran a formal safety drill at the beginning of every board and executive team meeting. Employee attention was focused on safety and the drills triggered more safety conscious behaviors.

The Bottom Line
As you launch your next change initiative, do not forget to use environmental cues as a tool to promote the desired new ways. Remember environmental cues can come in the form of actions, physical designs, workflow prompts, sounds, rewards, and consequences.

To learn more about effective change management techniques, download How to Successfully Recognize and Reward Organizational Change


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